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Bangladesh looks to the future with confidence, as it marks the glory and the sacrifice of its birth

The Independence and National Day of Bangladesh have been celebrated at the Cercle Gaulois in Brussels, marking the 52nd anniversary of the country’s Declaration of Independence.

 Ambassador Mahbub Hassan Saleh said the diplomats, politicians and other guests were marking a glorious moment, not just in his nation’s history but in the history of the world, writes Political Editor Nick Powell.

Bangladesh is now an important member of the international community, its nearly half a trillion-dollar economy is already the 33rd largest in the world and such is its pace of growth that it’s set to be the 24th largest by 2030. But as well as taking pride in the country’s achievements under its Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh’s National Day is an occasion to recall how the long struggle for freedom by its Father of the Nation and her father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, culminated in his Declaration of Independence on 26 March 1971.

HE Aambassador Mahbub Hassan Saleh

Pakistan fought a brutal and genocidal war aimed at preventing that independence but by the end of the year it was defeated by the Bangladeshi resistance, aided by the Indian military. Three million people were killed at the hands of the Pakistan army and their local collaborators, more than two hundred thousand women were violated and by the time the fighting was over, forty million people had fled their homes, thirty million within Bangladesh and ten million to India. European countries were among the first to recognise and support the newly independent state and official relations with the European Union were established in 1973. 


This year, the celebration in Brussels of Bangladesh’s National Day was delayed until early May as the actual day, 26 March, was in the holy month of Ramadam. A crowded gathering at the Cercle Gaulois, with a distinguished guest list, demonstrated the importance to the European Union of Bangladesh. 

In his address, the Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service, Enrique Mora, said Bangladesh is “a very close friend of the European Union”, with trade worth €24 billion in the past year. He said ”we can still do more”, recalling that the first ever EU- Bangladesh political dialogue took place in Dhaka last year. He noted that they were now starting negotiations for a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA), “a new basis for our partnership”, as he put it.

The special guest of honour was the State Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh, Md. Shahriar Alam MP. He said that he was especially proud to be joining the National Day celebrations in Brussels as his country and the EU marks 50 years of partnership this year, a robust trade relationship that accounts for half of all Bangladesh’s exports. 

Mr Alam recognised the important role of the EU’s Everything But Arms scheme, granting unlimited tariff-free access to Bangladesh’s exports, in accelerating his country’s social and economic development. “Under the dynamic and visionary leadership of Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, a very able daughter of our Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh is graduating from the category of Least Developed Countries in 2026 and striving to be a higher middle-income country by 2031”, he said.

“The contribution of the European Union towards this impressive development of Bangladesh is enormous”, he added. “Our common goals of improving the quality of life of our peoples, continued empowerment of women, addressing the challenges of climate change, repatriation of more than 1.2 million forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals (Rohingyas) to their homeland, expansion of education and healthcare, countering Covid-19, improvement in workplace safety and labour rights, diversification of the export basket, safe orderly and regular migration, continuous improvement in governance, achieving the sustainable development goals -all these bring us even closer as partners”.

Cutting the celebration cake

The State Minister went on the say that as Bangladesh moved towards becoming a higher middle-income country, it was planning for a future partnership with the EU focused on knowledge, skills development, innovation and employment. “In this regard, we are particularly appreciative of the EU’s initiative to include Bangladesh in the list of countries with which the European Union is launching the Skills and Talent Partnership to facilitate legal migration into the EU”, he said. “We also wish to expand our engagements with the EU into traditional and non-traditional areas of security, counter-terrorism, climate change, connectivity, blue economy, circular economy and beyond”.

The event was organised by the Bangladesh Embassy in Brussels. Ambassador Mahbub Hassan Saleh reflected on the significance of his country’s National Day. “We the Bengalis and the global humanity witnessed a glorious moment in our history and the history of the world. Father of the Nation of Bangladesh Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s 23-year long struggle for freedom for the Bengalis culminated with his Declaration of Independence of Bangladesh. The Poet of Politics transformed his life-long vision -his political epic- into a reality”.

He recalled that Bangabandhu had articulated his country’s peace-centric and humane foreign policy as ‘friendship to all and malice towards none’. “Our contribution to the maintenance of international peace and security is clearly reflective of this”, he said. “Bangladesh is the leading contributor to the UN peacekeeping operations. Bangladesh has been temporarily sheltering 1.2 forcibly displaced Rohingyas from Myanmar since August 2017. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s policy of ‘zero tolerance against terrorism and extremism’ and the success of the same make us confident as a stable country and a peace-loving nation”.

The Ambassador referred to Bangladesh’s phenomenal development since Sheikh Hasina returned to office 14 years ago, realising the vision of ‘Digital Bangladesh’, achieving 100% electricity coverage in the country -the first in South Asia, and rapid and massive infrastructure developments, including the Padam Bridge -one of the longest in the world and built without any international aid or loan. 

Other achievements included Metro Rail in the capital, Dhaka, a tunnel under the river Karnaphuli and Bangladesh launching its first satellite in 2018. “It’s a new Bangladesh, a modern Bangladesh, a digital Bangladesh”, the Ambassador concluded. “A knowledge-based society with indomitable spirit and confidence, a triumphant country that continues to overcome challenges with firm determination and sustained efforts, a country that continues to earn a more respectable place at the global table. The world is ours and we are the world’s”.

*Following the National Day celebration, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md. Shahriar Alam gave an exclusive interview to our Political Editor, Nick Powell, which will appear soon in EU Reporter.



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